CLOSE
Original image
Wikimedia Commons

Meet the American Boas

Original image
Wikimedia Commons

If I say “boa,” you probably picture the tropical rain forests of South America, where the poster boy of the Boidae family, Boa constrictor, slithers through the brush. Your mind probably doesn’t leap to Los Angeles County or Colorado’s desert, but you’ll find boas there, too. The United States actually has two native boa species, the rubber boa (Charina bottae) and the rosy boa (Lichanura trivirgata), above. Their combined ranges cover much of the American west, from southern California up to Washington state, and from the Pacific coast east into Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. The rubber boa even crosses the Canadian border into British Columbia, making it the most northerly member of the family. 

Rubber and rosy boas are smaller than their Central and South American cousins, usually growing no longer than 3 or 4 feet (Boa constrictor can reach up to 13 feet) and only as wide around as a golf ball. They’re also slower and more docile than the other members of the family. Rather than hissing and striking when confronted by larger predators or humans, they’ll roll themselves into tight balls, with their head protected in the center. Sometimes the rubber boa will also try to confuse its attacker by striking out with its blunt tail to further draw attention from its head and body. 

While not as impressive in size or ferocity, the American boas are formidable hunters, and kill their prey using the same method as other boas: constriction. Hunting at night when small mammals like mice, rats, shrews and voles are more active, the American boas lie in wait and then ambush prey when it gets too close. Striking quickly, they secure their meal with sharp, tiny teeth, curl around it and squeeze until it suffocates. While hunting, the rubber boa again makes use of its tail as a decoy. It slithers into rodent burrows and offers its tail to any protective parent that tries to attack while leaving the head free to consume the nesting young. 

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do Dogs Howl at Sirens?
Original image
iStock

A dog's behavior can often prove confusing to their human colleagues. We know they like to eat their own poop, but puzzle at their motivations. We're surprised when dogs give a ladybug the same greeting as a home intruder.

Topping the list of eccentric canine behavior: Why do dogs howl at sirens? Is there some genetic predisposition to responding to a high-pitched alarm from passing ambulances or police vehicles?

As it turns out, the reason dogs howl at sirens is because of their ancestry—namely, the wolf. When members of a pack are fractured and spread out, their companions will howl to provide a way of locating them. Think of it as nature’s GPS: By howling, dogs are able to communicate their respective locations to one another, even across long distances.

Since dogs really don’t know what a cop car is supposed to sound like, they’ll often interpret a siren as an animal’s howl. It’s also possible that dogs consider sirens to be a sign that something is abnormal in their environment, and that they want you, the pack leader, to be aware of it.

Contrary to belief, a dog is rarely howling because the noise hurts their delicate ears. If that were the case, some experts say, then they would display other behaviors, like running and hiding.

The more a dog hears and responds to a siren, the more they might be compelled to continue the behavior. That’s because dogs who howl and then notice the sound drifting away might begin to associate their vocalizing with the disappearance of the noise. In the future, they’ll probably recall that they “drove” the interloper away with their warbling and repeat the process.

While howling is usually harmless, sometimes it can be a sign that your pet is feeling separation anxiety from an owner or that they’re feeling unwell. If howling persists even without a screaming siren within earshot, you might consider taking them in for a check-up.

If you’ve wondered why dogs howl at sirens, now you know. It’s simply a way of signaling their location and not because it pains them. Owners, on the other hand, might feel differently.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

arrow
Animals
5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Calm on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July can be rough for dogs. Fireworks displays light up their senses with unfamiliar noises, flashes, and smells, and parties flood their homes with strange guests who may invade the rooms they usually have as private retreats. And when distressed dogs escape, howl, or thrash around the house, Independence Day can quickly become a nightmare for their owners, too. To minimize Fido's stress this holiday, we spoke to some dog experts to discover the best ways to keep your canine calm on the Fourth of July.

1. EXERCISE

Anthony Newman, the dog whisperer who runs New York City's Calm Energy Dog Training, says that exercise is a great way to help your dog let off some nervous energy. “Whenever Fido is going to be neglected for an extended period of time, or around any stressful stimuli, it always helps to tire him out just before—and even during the night if you can,” Newman says. “As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog! He’ll be calmer, happier, and more peaceful.”

2. STAY INDOORS

Dr. Stephanie Liff, head veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care, says the best place to keep your pet during a fireworks show is inside and away from the windows. “If the pet is very scared, an escape-proof crate or a sound-insulated room, such as an internal bathroom, may help the pet to feel more secure,” Liff tells us. “If you cannot keep your pet inside, make sure that the pet is prevented from escape (monitor all exits and tell guests to monitor your pet).”

3. SOCIALIZE

While your dog may feel more secure in a room away from all the noise, Newman points out that keeping your dog isolated in another room for too long can be stressful for your pet. “Release his curiosity and let him in on the fun, to run around and play with both two-legged as well as four-legged guests,” Newman says. “Then back to his obedient room, bed, car, crate, or spot. Rinse and repeat as needed throughout the night."

4. TAKE CONTROL

According to Newman, the best way to keep your dog calm during the chaos of July 4th is to stay in charge. “If your dog winces, shivers, and runs away at loud noises, the last thing he wants is to feel like nobody else is looking out for him,” Newman says. Don’t let your dog run rampant around the house or follow him around trying to soothe him. Instead, Newman says it's important to “take control by attaching a super-light leash that you can grab and lead him whenever you need.”

5. MEDICATE

In extreme cases of nervousness, Liff says that you should talk to your vet about medication to sedate your dog.

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios